The backstory behind Delia Gonzalez’s riveting, moving Horse Follows Darkness is almost as rich as the album itself: the album is a kind of soundtrack to Gonzalez’s return to America after a sojourn in Berlin, but Gonzalez also saw parallels between her journey and American Western films of the 1960s. That alone is enough to freight the record with an encyclopedia of ideas, everything from Manifest Destiny to colonialism to the simple idea of an “untamed land” waiting—both ominously and expectantly—for new settlers. What makes the entirely-instrumental Darkness so enthralling is that it never tips over into literalism; there are no prairie whistles or lap steels or cleverly-chosen vocal samples. Instead, Gonzalez explores the idea of travel, transition, and the “Myth of America” through feints and suggestions, with spiderwebs of piano and billowing synths.
The steadily-chugging “Hidden Song” is cleft in two by a rude, cutting electric guitar, which slices up the center of Gonzalez’s motorik backdrop like an inebriated guest at a formal dinner party. The elements cohere gradually, the precise arrangements of Krautrock—its lockstep rhythm, waterfall of piano, and bobbing bassline—gradually subsuming the slashing riffs into themselves. The collision of elements, and the acclimation of one to another, feels packed with portent.
The title track is full of shadow and space; Gonzalez sketches out a skeletal piano figure, layering linen-like synths on top of it for an end result that feels mournful and isolated. “Roulette,” with its dewdrop guitars and gradually-building rhythm, is expectant and apprehensive all at once. And album-closer “Vesuvius” covers throbbing techno with black-cloud drones, synths sparkling and vanishing like lightning in the background. There’s no single overarching message to Darkness, but that’s precisely what makes it so beguiling. It is simultaneously hopeful and crushing—just like the country it takes as inspiration.
—J. Edward Keyes